Brianna Cooke was just 17 when she learned her grandparents had been brutally murdered.
The only thing worse than hearing that news was the realization her own father was the killer.
“I fell to the ground and screamed and cried,” said Brianna of her reaction after rushing past officers and crime scene tape at the home of her grandparents, Gary and Gail Dodson. That was the morning of June 29, 2015.
The Dodsons had been stabbed to death inside their home and Brianna’s father, Bryan Cooke, was the prime suspect.
“We were told not to go back home because he was on the run and they didn’t know if he might come after us,” said Brianna. “So we all spent the night with friends and they caught him the next day in Florida.”
Bryan Cooke has since been convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and is serving life without chance of parole. He was long thought to have committed the murders under the influence of several drugs, including meth, but Brianna says her father’s addiction was to opioids, a class of painkillers at the center of attention in Tennessee right now.
Brianna says her father’s opioid abuse began after several knee surgeries when he was prescribed pain medication by a physician. She said she was 11 when she realized her father had developed a problem.
“The first time I really knew was when he took me and my brother to a friend’s house because he said he wanted to run in and borrow a movie,” said Brianna. “We ended up sitting outside and waiting for him for two or three hours and it was obvious he was doing more than getting a movie. Soon after that, he had his first seizure.”
Brianna said she started to do some digging and uncovered the journal of her mother, Kelly. She said it was by reading journal entries she learned her father was addicted to pain pills.
“It started with hydros, which gave him a lot of energy,” said Brianna. “He wasn’t mean. He was just full of energy. He’d sleep all day and be up all night. When the hydros became too expensive, he googled what he could take that would give him the same effect and he found out he could take Mucinex, which is like an opioid. When he got on the Mucinex pills, that’s when he became really irate.”
Brianna said her father’s addiction spiraled out of control. Because he didn’t have money, she said he began stealing Mucinex from stores. He also began stealing money from her and other family members.
“I noticed him going through my drawers at night looking for money,” said Brianna. “I started hiding my wallet under my mattress and one night I felt him come in and lift up my mattress trying to get my wallet while I was asleep.”
Her father had become totally changed, Brianna said. He began suffering blackouts and disappearing for days.
“He would get up and go and be gone for three days,” said Brianna. “Usually on the fourth or fifth day he’d call my mom freaking out because he didn’t know where he was or how he got there. He turned up in Alabama, Kentucky and Florida.”
With a readily apparent drug problem, Bryan Cooke went to several rehabilitation clinics in an effort to get clean.
Brianna said she didn’t want to be around her father because he couldn’t stay sober so she went to live with her grandparents, Gary and Gail.
Despite his time in rehab, Brianna said her dad wasn’t showing signs of progress. In fact, he relapsed and was discovered in Navarre Beach, Fla.
“He tried to kill himself,” said Brianna. “They found him passed out on the floor of a men’s bathroom in Walmart with Mucinex bottles beside him. When he was released from the hospital, my mom went down to get him.”
When they returned to Warren County, Brianna said her father never made it inside the house. He told her brother, Cody, he was going to stay outside and clean out the car and would be inside in a moment. When he never came inside, Cody went to look for his father and found he had driven off with the car.
A few hours later, Bryan Cooke showed up in the Fairview community after stealing an 8-inch knife from Walmart in McMinnville. He used a credit card to gain entry to the Dodson home through a back door. Prosecutors maintain he stabbed Gary and Gail multiple times while they slept before removing his blood-stained clothes and leaving them in the bathroom.
Cooke once again fled to Florida where an alert hotel clerk noticed his suspicious behavior while checking in and contacted police. He was found naked and incoherent on a hotel bed surrounded by money he had stolen from the Dodsons.
“When we learned they caught him in Florida, the next few days were just a big blur,” said Brianna.
The double murder trial left Brianna and the rest of the family overcome by emotion. When the jury returned guilty verdicts Nov. 2, it produced mixed reactions.
“We got justice for my Pa and Nana and that was great,” said Brianna. “But on the other hand, the hope I had been clinging to that my dad could possibly change and be a dad again was gone. There were tears of joy, but I was crying because my dad was going to be in prison for the rest of his life.”
Brianna says she hasn’t visited her father in prison but the two have exchanged letters. She says the letters haven’t provided comfort.
“He’s written me and my brother and he acts like nothing has happened, like he’s dad of the year,” said Brianna.
She said she’s demanded he reveal what happened that night and why he would kill her grandparents. His response was he would tell her if she came to visit.
“That’s where it is right now,” said Brianna, uncertain if she will visit him.
As for her everyday life, Brianna, 19, is working at OK Heating and Air. She’s also taking classes in paralegal studies and says she would like to help other families the way Faye Braxton and Penny Medley with the District Attorney’s Office were there for her family.
Her brother wants to become a welder and her mom is working several jobs, one of which is at Gary and Gail’s Pit Stop, the market in Mt. Leo her grandparents operated.
“Amber (Dodson) is the owner now and she works hard to keep it going,” said Brianna. “I know she really wants to keep it open in their memory.”